About this project
Three years ago, you helped us launch XOAB, our vision of comfortable socks in beautiful designs. Since then, thousands of you have enjoyed them.
This time around, we’re introducing something new, XOAB Active compression socks. Here's the quick summary:
- Design forward. Using our proprietary design software we can create an unprecedented range of patterned compression socks. Great designs, lots of colors, no limits.
- Guaranteed comfort. We’ve created a state-of-the-art testing device to verify the fit in complex patterned compression socks, so there’s no guesswork finding the right size. We’ll ask you for a few measurements and send you the right socks.
- 100% Made in the USA. We design and make all the socks on our own machines from quality materials: American innovation, American materials, American manufacturing.
- Still kicking! After three years, we’re still brothers, enjoying inventing and designing.
Compression socks have been around a long time, you say? That’s true, but in limited patterns and colors. The long-established compression companies mostly sell socks in three colors, white, flesh-tone and black.
A small number of companies are doing patterned compression socks in the market, and we started this project thinking we could bring our design skills to the party, and offer more choices.
Not so fast.
We discovered that the state-of-the-art in measurement tools for compression socks can’t always measure patterned socks accurately. It just wasn’t possible to accurately verify the compression of our complex patterns. That was our first hurdle.
And, the testing devices that were available were only used in labs, sometimes needing weeks to return compression test results on a pair of socks. And that was our second challenge.
In a knitting mill, machine set-up can change from day to day; reproducing exactly what was done on a knitting machine weeks before can be problematic. Stretch will vary across different batches of the same kind of yarn. Some colors dyed from the same batch of yarn stretch differently than other colors. Without an accurate measuring system, one we could use right next to our knitting machines, we couldn’t verify the compression in our patterned socks, much less take advantage of the prototyping speed and versatility afforded by our unique design software.
In 2015, we were granted a patent on our process for analyzing complex sock patterns and redesigning them so they stretch enough for all sizes of legs. That process turned out to be more important than we realized, as the float threads in patterns interfere with the compression applied by a sock, and make accurate compression measurements more difficult.
Over the last two years, with a lot of trial and error, we’ve created a device we can use to measure any of our patterned socks accurately, and it can be used at the mill, next to our knitting machines.
We were made aware of compression socks by a friend and sock industry veteran who wore them exclusively. Rick wore them while working at our mill. The mill floor is concrete, so the knitting machines get a thin layer of plywood under them to reduce vibration. That helps the machines age gracefully - as for the rest of us, not so much. Almost all knitting work is done standing up, and at the end of a long day, wearing compression socks makes a big difference.
Compression socks do their magic by squeezing your legs. (The name “compression” might be a giveaway. :) They can help your legs feel better and you feel less tired by helping your circulatory system move blood, lactic acid, carbon dioxide and excess water from your muscles upward from your feet and lower legs. Travelers also know that compression socks can help keep feet from swelling when flying. For athletes, runners, cyclists, climbers and anyone who fights gravity when they exercise, compression socks may help with performance and recovery.
The challenge we faced was that we needed a measurement device that we could use at the mill, and one that would work on all our patterns. Most current measurement devices, like the one shown in our video, work by measuring the tension of a sock’s fabric, and use a simplified form of a partial differential equation known as the Young-Laplace equation to infer the pressure on a theoretical leg from that sock. The catch is that unless a sock has a flat, solid-color area where the device’s sensor measures tension, the sock’s pattern can disrupt the tension readings. And, these testing devices are expensive; the only ones we have access to are in third-party testing labs.
So we started tinkering, and built our own tester. The solution we came up with is to read a sock’s pressure directly, without the need for the tension-to-pressure conversion. We use a sensitive electronic pressure transducer attached to an air-filled rubber tube around a “measurement disk.” Each measurement disk is sized to a precise outer circumference, and reports how much a sock is squeezing that disk. We then stack up a “leg” of these measurement disks, where each disk’s outer circumference corresponds to either a segment of an industry standard leg or of a specific person’s leg. We connect our stack of measurement disks to a computer and we can read the exact pressure curve for a sock. We use the pressure data from the device to modify the parameters in the knitting machine program, and correct any pressure variation from the ideal sock we wanted to knit.
Because our device is easy to use, and can quickly take a pressure reading from any sock, we can also use it to start answering questions about compression socks that nobody knows the answers to yet, because of the difficulty in getting them tested. We’re looking forward to understanding how our socks change from when you put them on in the morning until you take them off at night, or how the socks change over many wearings and washings.
So far, we’ve built lots of prototypes, and have our first working “leg.” With your support, we’ll be able to create a range of interchangeable disks and several measurement legs. We’ll be fine-tuning the usability of the device, working on our software to read the measurements, and integrating the pressure measurements into our knitting workflow.
To work well, compression socks are “graduated,” meaning they are tighter at your foot and ankle, and “gradually” get looser towards your calf. It’s the smooth reduction in pressure, from bottom to top, that make them effective.
The pressure of compression socks is measured in “millimeters of mercury,” the same units of measurement used for your blood pressure. It’s abbreviated “mmHg.” (“Hg” is the symbol for the metal mercury, from its New Latin name, hydrargyrum, which means "liquid silver." In the dark ages, before dials, lights and Netflix, pressure gauges were made from a glass tube, filled with a column of mercury, and the scale next to the tube was a millimeter ruler.)
If your blood pressure reading is 120/80, for instance, that’s a pressure of 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) when your heart beats, and 80 mmHg when your heart is resting. Compression socks, for normal, non-medical use, exert considerably less pressure than your blood pressure, so blood will still flow easily in your legs.
Compression socks are categorized by the amount of pressure they apply at their tightest point, which is at the ankle. Because peoples’ legs vary in size, the same sock might be tighter if your ankle is larger, or less tight if your ankle is slimmer. We’ve chosen to make our standard socks 15-20 mmHg at the ankle. That means that depending on the size of your foot and ankle, we will provide socks that compress your ankle with a pressure somewhere between 15 and 20 mmHg. The top of our socks, at the largest part of the calf, will be about 30-35% less pressure, depending on the size of your calf, gradually lessening from the 15-20 mmHg at the ankle.
(For those of you wanting other pressures, or if you want a more precise fit, exactly customized to your legs, see our “Individual custom sizing reward,” below. They cost more, but we will work with you to achieve a perfect compression gradient for the shape of your legs.)
In return for helping us get our testing invention off the ground, you get the very first compression socks we make, in a size that fits you. You'll be able to pick from among the designs we show here, plus any that we add over the course of the project. You can mix and match any of these designs for your reward.
The compression socks for this Kickstarter will be knit from US-grown and spun Supima® combed cotton and 18.5 micron American Merino wool.
Individual custom sizing reward
You may have noticed our “custom” reward level. One capability our measurement invention gives us is the ability to create custom socks that are completely accurate for one individual, rather than being an approximate, “standard” size. By taking precise measurements of a person’s leg, we can craft a pair of compression socks that apply a consistent, graduated compression, no matter how small your ankles, how large your calves, and how unique your legs are shaped in between. Any of you who have had to buy custom compression socks know they’re expensive – we’ve seen quotes passing $200 per pair – no kidding! To create these ultimate socks, we have to dedicate about a half-day of machine and staff time to each person’s order; that’s the main reason they’re pricier than our other socks.
Each “custom” backer will receive a special measuring kit from us, and we'll guide you through taking the measurements we need to make your socks. We’ll use those dimensions to make graduated compression socks perfectly sized for your legs, and we'll send you a test sock to confirm the measurements before we knit all your socks. For our custom socks, we’ll be able to do stronger compression than our standard 15-20mmHg, if that’s something you desire, and we'll also be able to accommodate those of you who may need unique measurements for each leg.
We may limit the designs we can do for the custom socks, to keep the process manageable, but you’ll still be able to choose from at least 4 designs, and possibly more.
A custom design for your team or group
For $2,000, we will knit five dozen pairs of compression socks for your peloton of cyclists, ward of nurses, courtroom of lawyers or any other pod, gaggle or herd. Neil will work with you to adapt your design to be a successful compression sock pattern, or he can create a design from the ideas and artwork you provide. We'll provide a sample of the finished sock for your approval, and then we'll knit the socks in the specific sizes needed by everyone in your group. (Yes, we'll need to collect some measurements from them, but we’ll give you a custom on-line survey for that.) $2,000 is $33 and change per pair, which is much less than our single-pair price for this Kickstarter.
Even though we won’t be shipping socks in time for this holiday season, we're offering the option of designating any portion of your reward as a gift. We'll send an email card to anyone you’d like, on a date of your choosing between the end of the Kickstarter pledge period through the holidays, announcing however many pairs of socks you’d like to give. The recipient will be able to select their own designs and we will make sure they fit. If you want to split your reward between multiple recipients, email us at email@example.com and we'll arrange the specifics after the campaign closes. We'll ask you for delivery details when the campaign ends. You recipients will also get all our updates via email, and a front row seat to watch our progress.
Have you ever been frustrated with a size chart, and end up guessing which size to buy? Us too. While we’ll be producing “standard” sizes in our compression socks, for this Kickstarter we decided to help with that. Instead of giving you a size chart, we’re going to ask for a few measurements of your foot and leg. Using those measurements, we’ll choose the right size compression socks for you, from our standard range.
Sizing compression socks is a little more complicated than regular socks. With regular socks, we can usually guide you to the correct sock size if we know your shoe size. Unfortunately, the compression in socks, ie how much they squeeze your leg, changes depending on the size of your leg and your height, not just your shoe size.
We’re going to have several “standard” sizes ; variations for smaller and larger feet, smaller and larger calves, and shorter and taller people. But you don’t have to worry about guessing the correct size – we’ll use your measurements, and make sure you get socks that fit. In the process, you’ll be helping us fine-tune our sizing, adjusting the size ranges to make sure we can fit all your feet.
(We guarantee the sizing. It’s part of our unconditional guarantee. If you don’t think they fit, we’ll fix ‘em.)
New designs but no stretch goals
If you’ve backed other apparel Kickstarters, you’ll have noticed that projects frequently offer new designs or colors as stretch goals. Most apparel projects need to secure enough pre-orders to justify ordering a minimum quantity of each design. For socks, those minimums might be thousands of pairs for each design, possibly thousands in each different color combination.
We’re not offering new designs as stretch goals, simply because adding new designs is something we do easily, without minimums. Any of you who have seen our monthly First Editions subscription offerings know that we create new designs easily, in lots of colorways, and can decide exactly how many we knit at a time.
What we guarantee for this Kickstarter is that you’ll be able to choose from any of the compression designs you see here. In addition, by the time we ask you to choose your socks, we’ll even have more possibilities for you to pick from. We’ve included some of your favorite patterns from our regular line and we may offer new ones in addition to what you see here. If there are colors, patterns or styles you’d like to see, please let us know! One of the things we like about Kickstarter is the wealth of suggestions and ideas you bring to us!
With 4 knitting machines, we have the capacity to scale our manufacturing to accommodate the volume this campaign may generate. Although we may be adding more designs to the offerings for this Kickstarter, we will not go beyond a point where any added complexity would jeopardize timely fulfillment.
Delivering your socks
This time around, we’re packaging socks in envelopes, rather than gift boxes, to reduce some packaging and weight. Shipping to the US is included in the price of your reward.
The international shipping rates for our last Kickstarter were a bit steep: the costs for packages ranged from $10 to more than $30. Since almost 30% of backers for our first Kickstarter lived outside the US, we don’t feel comfortable up-charging for all the shipping, especially since we’re covering US postage. As a compromise, we’re going to split the shipping with our international backers – the shipping fee we’ve added for international delivery should cover half our expenses, and we’ll spot you for the rest.
You might get your socks in multiple packages
If you choose a reward with more than one pair of socks, we may not wait until we knit all your socks to send you some. As backers from our first Kickstarter may remember, we shipped more than 360 variations of pattern, color, fiber and size last time – and every possible variation was chosen by at least one backer! We ended up having to make all your socks before we could ship any, resulting in frustrating delays for you and for us.
We’re not doing that again! This time, if we have some socks made for you, we’re going to ship them, and you might get more than one delivery. Shipping to US backers is still free, no matter how many packages we send you. For international backers, the one-time fee is all you’ll pay, even if we send your socks in more than one bundle.
Ever notice that many sock companies do design and marketing but don’t knit their own socks? We discovered early on that we needed to have more control over our manufacturing than we could get from an arms-length relationship with a knitting mill.
The typical out-sourcing process for socks starts with a designer creating a rough sketch of a sock design, and sending it to a contract knitting mill, sometimes in the US, but more likely overseas. For more complex patterns, at the mill, a programmer reworks the design, often simplifying it to run on a knitting machine. Then, the programmer will give the design program to a knitter, specifying colors from the mill’s yarn inventory. The end result is an approximation of a designer’s intent, but very often more of a compromise than the designer would like.
To make our socks, we had to import our own custom-modified knitting machines, develop design and analysis software to help make Neil’s designs knit well, source high-quality undyed cotton and wool yarn, dye a wide range of colors and learn how to run small batches of socks quickly and efficiently. It’s not possible to produce our socks if we contract out our manufacturing. Our innovation and quality stem directly from our hands on approach, so the socks we make are precisely the ones Neil intended.
Neil and I are reminded every day that we’re standing on the shoulders of many talented people who have helped us and advised us since we started XOAB. They’ve kept us going, on track, and encouraged us not to quit when we’ve been feeling discouraged.
Dan St. Louis and Tony Whitener at the Manufacturing Solutions Center, in Conover, NC continue to be our go-to experts on the sock industry. When we’ve had questions, we’ve ended up on their doorstep time and again, and they keep answering. Thank you.
Next, we have to thank our loyal customers for taking a chance on a fledgling sock company, sticking with us, and spreading the word as we've worked on perfecting what many of you have told us to be the best socks you own. We rely on your feedback and gentle encouragement to improve what we do - please don't stop letting us know what you think!
We continue to rely on KentWool in Pickens, SC and Buhler Quality Yarns in Jefferson, GA for spinning the undyed yarn we use to make our socks. Lucy Reynolds and Tim Manson at Meridian Specialty Yarns make it possible to dye our amazing colors. Andy Rhoney and the team at Catawba Paper Box create our exquisite gift boxes.
Our knitting machines from Gianmario Busi and his team in Brescia run sock after sock, and live up daily to their reputation as the best pattern sock machines in the world.
Chris Crowley, Bob Nichols and Dean Miller provided invaluable mechanical and electrical design work to get our prototype tester off the ground. Naomi Levine provided CAD assistance to get our prototyping started. We printed and cut legions of parts for our prototypes and experiments at TechShop in San Jose.
Brian McKinney’s consummate skill created the software systems at the core of our business, and made it possible to run XOAB across 3,000 miles of US geography.
We’re incredibly grateful to Mike Pope and Martha Holmes, who keep our mill and machines running, organize us, and almost always say yes to our off-the-wall ideas for socks and designs. (And when Rick comes up with a new, hare-brained knitting technique, they almost always don’t mean it when they say “don’t let Neil know about that.” :)
For this Kickstarter, our theme song is again the track "Looking For a River" by Hannah Alkire and Joe Scott of Acoustic Eidolon. We can’t get it out of our heads! Their latest album, "A Tree Finds Its Voice" showcases the incredible pair of new instruments made for them from one piece of wood, and will be out in late October.
David Levine recorded the narration for our video, and did the final audio mix.
Karen Kuhn is the creative powerhouse behind all the lifestyle photography of our socks; her wonderful eye for color and form yields magical images.
Sarah Levine consulted on the use of compression socks in microgravity environments and provided bicycling images.
Next to last, we thank our family – Sue for putting up with Rick’s entrepreneurial proclivities and our mom, Myra Levine for believing in us and suggesting we work together. We still wish our dad was around to see what we’re doing; he’d love it.
And finally, thanks to each other. Without each other, none of this would be possible; brothers are nice to have.
Risks and challenges
This is our second Kickstarter. Our first one was quite a ride, and we learned a lot from the experience! We delivered more than 6,000 pairs of socks, spread out over 336 separate design, colorway, yarn and size variations, to more than 1,200 backers in more than 30 countries.
This time around, we’re more sure of our sock knitting chops, and very comfortable with the nuts and bolts of running a high quality sock business. We’ve improved our knitting processes and tools, and we’ve taken much of your feedback to heart, and made improvements to our socks, like more heel and toe reinforcement and tweaks to sizing. We started the last Kickstarter with only one knitting machine in production, and now we have four running, with a four-fold increase in our daily production capacity.
We’re also taking a few steps to simplify our work for this Kickstarter. First, we’re not going to produce as many variations, which simplifies our manufacturing work. Second, we’re going to ship socks to you in envelopes, rather than gift boxes, to save shipping cost and packing material.
And, we’re not going to wait until we’ve knit all the socks if you choose a multi-sock reward; you’ll very likely get more than one shipment from us, to get you socks sooner. (With no extra shipping charge to you.)
We’re sure we’ll hit some snags along the way – we’re trying something new, and still developing some of the techniques we’ll use to produce and test our compression socks. However, backers of our first Kickstarter have already experienced our persistence firsthand. We don’t quit. We’ve been told by one kind backer that we’re not really a sock business, but a customer service company that happens to sell socks. We’re very intent on keeping our focus on service and on your complete happiness with our socks, and hope you’ll join us in our newest venture, making the most comfortable, beautiful compression socks in the world.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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